Public access to school computers raises questions

As for balancing the needs of adults and children, Hinton said she would leave her district’s internet filter operative during after-hours use of computer labs.

“Any sites that adults need for job searches and educational purposes shouldn’t be affected by the filter,” she wrote. “I am not sure about the feasibility of providing a [specific] network access account to someone who is only going to use it infrequently.”

Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, said the FCC’s expansion of the e-Rate program is encouraging, although a few important details must be resolved.

CIPA allows for the disabling of a filtering program if it’s blocking access to a legitimate web site, and most public libraries will disable the filter if an adult requests this, Willard said.

One challenge stemming from the FCC’s ruling, Willard said, is the way computers are arranged in school libraries or computer labs as compared to how they are arranged in public libraries. Public libraries often separate computers intended for use by children from general adult computers, and children must be supervised and not left to wander into an area where an adult might be using a filter-disabled computer.

“Further, in public libraries, there is a strong focus on ensuring patron privacy [through the] placement of computers and privacy screens,” she said. “This approach serves many purposes, such as [when] an adult might be searching for sensitive medical information. But in schools, the placement of the computers is designed to ensure the most effective supervision; all screens are to be easily visible.”

School leaders also must consider how they would provide the additional staffing, security, and technical support that would be needed to open their facilities for public use after school hours, Willard said.

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